Tips For Successful Examination Flights (PPL Test Flight Advice)
Tips For Successful Examination Flights (PPL Test Flight Advice)

Whether we like it or not, all of us have to face Examination or ‘test’ flights at some time in our flying career, and they are a necessary part of becoming and remaining a safe and competent pilot.

As pilots gain and maintain additional ratings and maybe instructor / examiner qualifications, the number of potential and recurrent examination flights increases – I can guarantee your examiner will have to face more regular tests than you so we know how you are feeling! This article attempts to look at some of the different examination flights you may have to tackle and some tips on how to be successful.

The first thing to say, is that the EASA terminology isn’t always clear and many people colloquially use the wrong terms. For example, many people talk about ‘doing a test to renew their PPL’ when what it actually means is ‘doing a Proficiency Check to renew the SEP rating on my PPL’ – confused yet?!

There is no need to get too hung up, but the table below can help decode what you are actually doing. The most important thing is to ensure you have had a read of the relevant Standards Document (all available in PDF form on the CAA web site). It is also useful if you can have a read of the test schedule form that the Examiner will use so you know what the test entails, again all in PDF on CAA web site. Ideally, your instructor should take you through all this when preparing you for test.

 

Types of Examination Flight

Type of Flight Applicability Relevant CAA Standards Documents Relevant Schedule
Skills Test Initial Issue of a Class Rating (e.g. SEP or MEP) or Licence (e.g. LAPL or PPL)  Doc 19 – PPL

Doc 19 also is only current coverage for LAPL

Doc 14 – Class Ratings

SRG1157 – Class Ratings

SRG2127- LAPL

SRG2128 – PPL

Proficiency Check Revalidation or Renewal of a Rating  Doc 14 – Class Ratings

Doc 1 – IR

SRG1157 – Class Ratings / IR
Assessment of Competence Issue, revalidation of Renewal of Instructor or Examiner Certificates Doc 10 – FI/CRI/IRI

Doc 21 – FE

SRG1169 – FI/CRI/IRI
Flight Test/Proficiency Check Issue or Revalidation of IR(Restricted) Doc 25 – IMC Rating SRG1176

 

Test format

All tests will follow a very similar format as described below. You can read the guidance to Examiners in the Flight Examiners Handbook which is also on the CAA web site – it isn’t secret and all tests should follow the standard format.


1. Initial Briefing

This is the initial meeting between Examiner and Candidate. The Examiner will try and put you at ease, and confirm who you are and what you are doing. They should outline the plan for the day and will normally examine your paperwork to confirm you are good to go for the test. It helps massively at this stage if you are well organised, with any training records, forms, logbook, licences, medical all well ordered and immediately available. Believe it or not, I have on occasion wasted literally hours while candidates attempt to find paperwork or medicals they have left at home at this stage. The Examiner may also wish to see or know where the aircraft documents are at this stage so we can check airworthiness and insurance cover.

If appropriate, the Examiner will now set you planning tasks such as route, weight and balance or booking approaches and so on. You should both agree a time to re-meet for the main brief. If the Examiner is unfamiliar to the setting, this is also the time we normally appreciate directions to the nearest hot drink capability and toilets!


2. Main Brief

At the main brief, the examiner will examine your planning, ask any relevant questions and run through the flight and paperwork in detail. The Examiner should run through the test structure, and make it clear who is responsible for what at the various phases of the flight. Don’t be surprised if we ask questions about the aircraft we are about to use or speeds, Examiners fly a wide variety of aircraft which all vary and we may not be familiar with the exact avionics fit or configuration of the aircraft. This is also your time to ask any questions of clarification – do not wait until you are airborne if you are unsure on anything! At the end of the main brief make sure you have everything sorted, all the kit you need and visit the toilets!


3. Flight

The flight should run as per the briefing, but if the Examiner needs to modify the order of test events to fit in with ATC or weather, they may do that and should ensure you understand what is happening. The test should consist of everything you have previously been trained on and discussed, and there should be no attempts to trick you or introduce unknown exercises. You may find the cockpit dynamics somewhat different to normal, as the Examiner role is very different to Instructing – the flight is a demonstration of skill rather than learning new techniques.


4. Debrief

Once you have safely shut down and are back in a suitable environment, the Examiner will give you the test result and debrief any salient points. In most cases this will be a pass or partial pass, with some points of advice or observation. With your permission, your instructor is very welcome to sit in for their benefit as well. In the unfortunate event of a fail, you may understandably be upset or confused. Don’t be afraid to ask for a quick break or to take notes if you are struggling to take in what the Examiner will offer to go over with you – all of us want to give you the best advice and guidance to quickly revisit and get a pass. There will inevitably then be a mound of paperwork that needs to be completed, signed and probably copied / scanned – don’t be surprised if this takes a while as it is important to get it right otherwise you risk rejection when applying to the CAA for your licence/rating. 

 

10 Tips For a Relaxed & Successful Flight

So, now you know what you are doing and what will happen – what are my top ten tips for a relaxed and successful flight?


1. Know the Skills Test schedule

Don’t worry about remembering everything you need to do during the skills test – the Examiner will brief you thoroughly and prompt you through the test items during the flight. However, it is important you are confident and happy you can fly all the test items that will be asked of you, so your pre-test work-up is the time to practise any you are unsure about or rusty on. The test details are all available on the CAA website in various documents listed in the table above, so have a read through with your instructor and make sure you are happy with everything you could be asked to fly.


2. Prepare yourself

If you are not physically prepared, you won’t fly well. A good night’s sleep, a drive to the airfield in plenty of time and being well fed/watered is as crucial as pre-flighting the aircraft. Don’t be afraid to take a small sports bottle of water in the aircraft with you as well if you need, especially in summer. Decent sunglasses and appropriate clothing for the conditions are also vital.


3. Do your route study

When you have planned your route or operating area, take plenty of time to mentally fly round it and think out what fixes and features you are going to look for, when you will do checks and RT calls, what airspace is around you, where the weather is in relation to your route and what in-flight diversion options you may have. This will help prevent you having to spend excessive time heads down looking at your map during the flight, which will compromise your lookout and flying accuracy. Even on a local flight, make sure you have a good mental model of airspace, weather constraints and ‘anchor features’ you can keep in sight to keep in your desired area – upper air winds can soon drift you into unexpected areas!


4. Cut out the c**p!

There is no need to take the entire contents of a pilot supplies catalogue flying with you – there is nothing worse than having pens and stuff drop everywhere when you are getting in, or worse in flight. Take what you need and make sure it is secure, yet accessible, during flight. Get rid of loose change, car keys and other junk from your pockets. Taking a mobile is a good idea in case of a forced landing, but turn it off or to flight mode rather than just silent, as it is amazing how distracted people get by it vibrating away in their pocket!


5. Try to relax during the flight

Ha, easy for an Examiner to say, you are thinking! The thing to remember is that we are not looking for perfection or trying to select the next Red Arrows pilot recruit. All we want to see is a safe, competent and well-handled flight, as if you were solo or with a non-pilot passenger. If you make a mistake, let the Examiner know and do your best to correct it. Equally, if you drift from your heading/speed/height etc.. we want to see a prompt recognition and effective correction – it is not an immediate fail. Remember, test failures are rare and only in cases where there was a clear safety concern or repeated errors that the candidate failed to recognise and correct.


6. Don’t worry about what the Examiner is doing

Examiners are not supposed to distract the candidate, so don’t worry if we are not chatting away and seem a bit quiet – we are just trying to give you some peace to concentrate on your flying. We will quite happily engage in conversation if you want to, but if you want to concentrate don’t be afraid to ask the Examiner to be quiet! After all, it is an essential skill once you have your licence to manage your passengers at important moments of the flight.

We will also usually bring a kneeboard and may scribble things down. Don’t worry about that; we generally note things down to help debrief at the end, and these could be good or bad things, so don’t stress that writing = errors! Equally, don’t waste your time trying to read our scribblings. With my handwriting, you won’t be able to anyway!


7. Aviate – Navigate – Communicate!

This is a very old adage, but still a good one. What it really means is prioritise your actions appropriately and don’t overload yourself with trying to do too many things at once. It happens to us all – I failed my first PPL Nav test by trying to turn at a waypoint, talk to (then active) RAF Cottesmore ATC and descend below cloud all at once. I set off on the wrong heading and went the wrong side of Rutland Water through RAF Wittering MATZ, which convinced my Examiner I had messed it up! Don’t rush and set off on a nav leg before you have got the aircraft settled at your desired height, speed and heading, and if the circumstance requires, don’t be afraid to tell ATC to ‘standby’ while you sort out more pressing things. The adage is also great advice for dealing with emergencies – whether simulated or real – as failing to complete your mayday call won’t hurt you, but getting slow and stalling certainly will!


8. Try to get your RT slick

There is nothing that will sap your capacity more than struggling to get your RT calls out or replies in. If you are confident and slick with what you are going to say it will make your flying a lot easier. FISO/ATCOs are usually very happy for Tower visits – take the opportunity to sit in and understand how things flow from their end of the microphone. If you can anticipate how the FISO/ATCO will respond to your calls, it gives your brain a mental head start for a slick reply. Don’t be afraid to practise saying out your RT calls at home or on car journeys (probably on your own!) – it is a great way of running through a simulated flight.


9. Keep the workcycle going

When airborne, your workcycle should be based around LOOKOUT – ATTITUDE – INSTRUMENTS, with the majority of the time spent on an all round good LOOKOUT, with confirmatory checks of ATTITUDE and INSTRUMENTS. Spending excessive time ‘heads in’ looking at maps, instruments or PLOGs is dangerous and will compromise your flying accuracy. If you need to look at charts or PLOG or do checks, make sure you break it up and keep the lookout going. The majority of problems during navigation stem from candidates staring at their map while the aircraft drifts off heading and/or height. An old RAF tip – hold checklists and maps up at canopy level to look at them rather than on your knees. It keeps your peripheral vision working on the aircraft attitude and lookout and I guarantee you will fly more accurately.

This is also true for instrument flying tests – the reason most candidates get themselves in trouble is because their instrument scan breaks down as they get overly focussed on one parameter or distracted with another task. Remember to break actions down into manageable chunks and keep scanning!


10. Don’t be afraid to Go Around!

Don’t persist with a bad approach if it goes wrong on the day. An examiner will be far more impressed to see you make a timely and safe decision to go around rather than continuing a poor approach, which will inevitably result in an untidy or unacceptable landing. Everyone has an approach go a bit wrong at times; the real error is to let it develop rather than going around and repositioning for another go.

 

All The Best For Your Next Examination

I hope this gives students and pilots some useful background information and tips for a successful flight. Above all, remember your Examiner wants you to pass and you wouldn’t have been recommended for test by your instructor(s) if you weren’t ready. I have years of happy memories of giving the good news to successful candidates, many of whom are now sat in shiny Airbus or Boeing cockpits and one has even Examined me for a revalidation as well!

One final word – the days of grumpy / shouty / tricky Examiners should be consigned to the history books, and if you do get a relic from the past it isn’t acceptable and you don’t have to put up with it – speak to your school or instructor and don’t be afraid to ask for a change. All the best for your next test!

Matt Lane
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